Lightning offense gets headlines, but defense is winning games

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two
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The Islanders and Lightning have some familiarity in the postseason. Just a tad.

They’ve seen each other nine times in the past two Stanley Cup semi-finals, and Saturday night is the 10th. The previous series doesn’t matter now; its what the Lightning used to get to the Cup Final, which they won a season ago.

As it stands now, Tampa Bay holds a 2-1 series lead on the scrappy Islanders.

Not known for their scoring, the Islanders have found ways to put the puck in the net when they have to these playoffs. Still, their scoring ability isn’t anything like the previous Lightning playoff opponents in the Hurricanes and Panthers.

So perhaps it makes sense the Islanders hurdle is still the Lightning. Over the nine games in the past two seasons, the final score between the two squads has been 2-1 five times. That’s stingy defense from both the Bolts and Islanders.

Of course, the Lightning are backstopped by the likely Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, but the defense in front of him has limited the Islanders from generating chances.

There’s been a singular playoff game between the two where the Islanders scored more than two goals – last postseason’s Game 3 when the Islanders won 5-3. One of those tallies was an empty netter, so that’s four regular goals.

Part of that is Vasilevskiy for certain; he has an .897 percent high danger save percentage through three playoff games with the Islanders this season, and had an .870 a season ago. He’s allowed one goal or fewer in each of his last four playoff road games, too.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Lightning get style points for their deep offense and standout playoff performances from Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, but to grind out a bunch of 2-1 games and tight contests against an Islanders team that typically succeeds in them is a credit to the defense.

Victor Hedman is a Norris candidate and Ryan McDonough has been a lock-down guy, while Erik Cernak is playing himself into the Lightning likely having to alter their expansion protected roster. David Savard has been as advertised since being acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline.

Consider how important the Lightning blue line was offensively in their Cup run last year with 17 goals, and how they had yet to tally until Game 3 as well. Hedman scored a power play goal in that contest, and while they certainly won’t hit that 17 number again, that element of their game waking up makes them more dangerous.

In Game 3, Hedman’s final two shifts lasted 1:44 and 2:19 as the Lightning grinded out another 2-1 win. The Islanders led the Lightning 15-5 in high danger chances. They challenged Tampa Bay, and the Lightning defense — and Vasilevskiy — still did what they’ve been doing for two years.

Apparently, that’s beating the Islanders 2-1.

So, yes, the Lightning can outscore nearly everyone and have offensive talent and a lot of it comes from salary cap overages and all that, but they are where they are now from the blue line.

And if history tells us anything from last season, they’ll continue to grind out these Islanders-style games. Because no one can play Islanders hockey quite like the Lightning.

ISLANDERS VS. LIGHTNING (TB leads 2-1) – series livestream link

Game 1: Islanders 2, Lightning 1
Game 2: Lightning 4, Islanders 2
Game 3: Lightning 2, Islanders 1
Game 4: Sat. June 19: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
Game 5: Mon. June 21: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 6: Wed. June 23: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 7: Fri. June 25: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)

*if necessary

Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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